Between teeth brushing, bed making, and kid-corralling, mornings can be full and chaotic. Add in the scramble to pack healthy lunches, and you’ve got even more stress. With a bit of strategy, you can make packing healthy lunchtime eats much more straightforward and doable.
Check out these meal-prep shortcuts, storage tips, and pack-worthy foods to save you time and help prevent that morning lunch-packing frenzy.
Meal Prep & Storage Tips for Easy Lunches
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to meal prep, and the best type of meal prep for your family is the one that’s most practical. Meal prep makes it possible to have foods ready long before you need them. Food safety is crucial to keep in mind, so your child’s foods stay as safe as possible. Kids under five are at the greatest risk of food-borne illness, so safe storage practices* are key to keeping them healthy.
*Food Safety Reference: PDF - USDA Food Storage Guidelines
Tip #1: Cut up fruits and vegetables that will last
Choose fruits and vegetables that are long-lasting. Prep produce that can hold up long-term, like bananas with peel, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, cucumbers, grapes, celery, and blueberries. Cut-up pears, apples, and avocados brown quickly, but you can slow the process by squeezing with lemon or lime. You can always save these foods for snack time.
As soon as you bring your produce home from the store and throw your shopping bags on the countertop, go ahead and prepare to rinse them with water. Get out your sealable, clear storage containers or mason jars to keep your cut-up fruits and vegetables good for as long as possible.
Storage Tip: While cut-up fruit can last a while, it’s safest to store them for 4 days.
Tip #2: Prep grains in bulk
Add some balance to your child’s lunch with healthy grains to give them the fiber, B vitamins, and complex carbs they need to power through their school day. You can speed up the lunch packing time by cooking grains such as rice, pasta, quinoa, couscous, or farro ahead of time in a big batch. Whether you use a rice cooker, oven, or pot, you can make enough to last safely for a few days (freeze any extra).
Create versatile meals with these cooked grains and use them in soups, stir-fries, taco bowls, or pesto pasta.
Storage Tip: Some cooked grains can typically last between 3–6 days in the fridge, so you can have them prepped as you need them for the week. Portion out what you’ll need, and freeze any extra.
Tip #3: Make protein-packed entrees ahead of time
Make mornings easy peasy by prepping your child’s protein foods early. You may want to keep some protein-packed foods fresh in the fridge and ready to go for school, like egg and veggie bites or tofu “chicken” salad sandwiches. Your kiddo may not be interested in eating these over and over, so consider shaking things up by adding new sides or repurposing foods into wraps or over salads.
Storage Tip: On average, you can keep foods such as these in the fridge for 3 days.
Tip #4: Befriend your freezer
Remember, your freezer is your friend! Take advantage of your freezer by stocking it with packable lunch items. Whether homemade pancakes, cheesy spinach quesadillas, or mango and carrot veggie burgers, you can freeze and pull out these foods 1–2 days before you need them to thaw in the fridge. Once you have built a cold stash, you’ll have a variety of foods to choose from. As you cook, continue making extras to keep them frozen for months!
- Egg and veggie bites
- Black bean and cheese wraps
- Pesto, mozzarella, and tomato pinwheels
- Mini mushroom and kale pizza cups
Black bean quinoa veggie burgers (for sliders!)
- Mini falafel balls
Storage Tip: Safely store these foods for up to 4 months.
Tip #5: Prep or buy ready-to-eat snacks
Snack prep in your weekly routine makes packing school lunches a breeze. It doesn’t take much time to cook or bake snacks, so they’re a quick grab-and-go option. In addition, you can free up some time in your schedule by incorporating convenient ready-to-eat snacks, which offer plenty of nutrition essentials for your child.
Boiled eggs are chock-full of nutrition, filling, and can store in the fridge for a whole week.
- Whip up blueberry muffins in bulk, and when they’ve baked and cooled, toss them into a large freezer bag to freeze for a quick packable lunch addition.
- Make energy bites using oats, dried fruit, seeds, honey, and nut or seed butter, and store them in the fridge for the week.
- Air-fry cinnamon apple chips or spiced chickpeas your child can enjoy all week.
- Roast root veggies (beets, carrots, and parsnips) with garlic and rosemary and enjoy cold or warm.
Packable Lunch Meal Ideas
These balanced lunch ideas help offer some fresh, delicious ideas to add to your lunch prep routine.
- Whole wheat pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, and blueberries
Butternut squash mac and cheese with steamed broccoli and grapes
- Deconstructed taco bowl with rice, pinto beans, fajitas, and shredded cheese
- Plant-based sliders with whole grain bun, sweet potato wedges, and mandarin oranges
- Stir-fry lunch with pan-fried tofu cubes, sesame rice, steamed edamame, and egg roll
- Egg bites meal with diced tomatoes, mango slices, and toast
- Veggie and lentil soup, with strawberry slices and cornbread muffin
- Homemade lunchable: crackers, soy butter, sliced apples with a squeeze of lemon, celery sticks
- Charcuterie lunch with cheese cubes, sugar snap peas, white bean hummus, and pita bread
Pasta bowl with raspberries and chickpeas